I am reading Volume 8 of ‘The Bee’ which was published in 1792. However, the article that interests me is an ‘Account of a visit to the Hebrides, by a Committee of the British Fisheries Society, in the year 1787. In his letter offering the article for submission, the author signs himself ‘Piscator’, presumably, but mysteriously, so as to protect his true identity?
The account is split into sections amongst the contents of ‘The Bee’ and it is that beginning on page 281 that especially interest me:
July 19. Wind fair. After a passage of six hours reached Rowdil, in the isle of Herries, by 12 o’clock.
Visited captain Macleod of Herries’s operations at Portmore.
Captain Alexander Macleod of Berneray had bought Harris some eight years earlier, in 1779, and our ‘Piscator’ is providing us with evidence of what had been undertaken by those ‘operations at Portmore’. Before progressing, I should say that this is the first, and only, time that I have encountered the name ‘Portmore’ in connection with Harris. If, as appears the case, it was Captain Macleod’s name for his ‘operations’ then the lesson of history regarding the renaming of parts of Harris was lost to the later Lord Leverhulme and his replication a couple of miles along the Sound at An-t-Ob.
He has built a pier of 300 feet long, and 22 wide. He is building a second, to inclose the harbour.
Those piers remain to this day as testament to the vision of the Captain and, whilst fishing wouldn’t have saved Harris from all its problems in the 19thC, I am firmly of the opinion that had the ‘operations’ been continued with fervour by Alexander’s son and grandson then some of the suffering could, and would, have been ameliorated.
He has built a large storehouse, and over it a good inn, his present dwelling…made a good road from the harbour to a little town he is forming on the height…and a manufacturing house for teaching children the art of spinning…
The RCAHMS record for Rodel House describes it as ‘unusually tall’ so I think that when we are told of a ‘large storehouse, and over it a good inn’, we are indeed learning of the use to which each of the three storeys were being put. That ‘little town on the height’ ,which was connected to the harbour by a proper road, became the ‘Rodel Farm’ of half a century’s time rather than the ‘manufacturing’ centre that the Captain clearly had in mind. Maybe it was no bad thing that the children of Harris were spared the horrors of the factory system that might have been introduced had that particular aspect seen fruition.
…one of the upper rooms full of boys and girls, whom a schoolmaster was instructing in the arts of reading and writing.
I don’t know if any mainland mills were offering an education at this time but, if so, I have yet to hear of it.
The account continues for several pages, each containing little gems of detail, and to which I hope to return but, for now, we leave these scholars of whom, ‘an Englishman gentleman of the party said , few children at the schools in England, read with more correctness or less accent.’
Note: ‘The Bee’ was published in Edinburgh from 1790-1794 by James Anderson who was born at Hermiston near Edinburgh in 1739. When only 15, his parents died and he ran the family farm. He attended lectures on Chemistry to improve his agricultural knowledge, introduced the Scotch Plough, wrote several essays on agriculture and in 1788 received the degree of LLD from Aberdeen University. He died on 15 October 1808.